Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Genesis 3:17-19) takes me just east of Eden, where the first couple’s appetite for destruction landed them in a prickly patch of thorns and thistles. Losing paradise and gaining the blood, brow-sweat, and crybaby tears of labor pain and labor intensive field work was hardly the bargain A&E had hoped for when conversing with the Narnia-like talking serpent. It’s not that they were being exiled to do garden work for the first time. There in paradise they had work to do, tilling and tending the terrains of utopia. But it was good work, rewarding work, the kind of work that brings pleasure, not pain. They were exiled to Johnny Paycheck territory, the back-breaking land of take this job and shove it.
I can’t help but have a slightly different perspective on the thorns and thistles, though. My dad’s first “paying” job as a young boy was to work for Doc Greenwood on his farm, which is where the River Ridge strip mall is now. Daddy’s job was to clear the land of the thistles. He did so much thistle clearing that he earned the nickname from Doc, “Thistle.” Doc would come home, often times two or three sheets to the wind after a hard day’s practice of medicine, and he would yell out for Daddy in a voice that would carry all across the ridge –Thistle! Thistle! That early experience may be why Daddy had a fondness for thistles. Whenever we worked out in the garden, pulling weeds and hilling corn and beans, he always hated to pull up thistles. He told me that thistles and other “weeds” weren’t really weeds at all; they were just flowers that happened to be growing where they ought not grow. Years later I would read this same spirit in Emerson: a weed is simply a plant whose virtues we haven’t yet discovered. Sometimes Daddy even dug up thistles and re-planted them on the edge of the garden, so he could watch them bloom. And bloom they did – beautiful wispy purple and pink flowers. He’d look at them and recite with glee, where is that sieve of un-sifted thistles that Theofilus Thistle the thistle sifter sifted? And as for the thorns, they often provided some good things, too, namely blackberries and wine berries. You just had to watch out for serpents (and hope they wouldn’t start talking to you).
Working in the garden with Daddy, which I hated in my childhood but grew to love as an adult, was to me an experience of Paradise Re-discovered. We had sweat on our brows, for sure, and occasionally had pain from pricked fingers, but the work was good. It was rewarding, and still is. It brings more pleasure than pain. It calls for a soundtrack. I doubt Daddy would have sung much Guns & Roses, but I’ve always thought Axl Rose sounded a lot like Ethel Merman, and if I could have convinced him it was her belting it out, he might have joined me in singing along as we headed down to the garden: Take me down to the paradise city where the grass is green and the girls are pretty, take me home. Joni Mitchell and CSN might have been more palatable, though, so I’ll leave you with. . . We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.